The Price of a Pandemic: A Wedding Story

Travel, boarding, catering, flowers, are just some of the many businesses disrupted by the postponement and cancellation of wedding around the world. How should you plan moving forward? And can weddings exists in a virtual world? We get insights from one of the best wedding planners in the business.

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COVID-19 is changing every aspect of life right now, and that includes big events that have been in the works for months, even years. Weddings are no exception. Many people have had to cancel or postpone their wedding, which causes many ripple effects. Along with the emotional stress, there are flight & hotel cancellations, deposits lost, figuring out the right future date, etc. With so much uncertainty, it makes planning very challenging.

In today's episode, we talk with world-renowned wedding planner, Michelle Rago of Michelle Rago Destinations.  She shares with us how the industry has been affected, what to think about when planning a wedding, and what the future looks like.

We'd like to thank the couples at the beginning of the episode for sharing their stories. We wish you all the best.

If you're a couple who's had to postpone or cancel your wedding due to COVID-19, Love Stories TV is providing assistance. Email bff@lovestoriestv.com for venue and vendor recommendations.

Our music for today's episode is brought to you by Blue Dot Sessions. Intro music was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by All of Bach, a project of the Netherlands Bach Society.

Episode Transcript


MESH VO:  Hi everyone, Mesh here from Talk Money, and welcome back to The Price of a Pandemic, our series where we discuss how the coronavirus is affecting the economy, business, markets & investing.


COVID-19 is changing every aspect of life right now, and that includes big events that have been in the works for months, even years. Sure, it sucks when you have to miss a music festival or cancel a vacation. But your wedding is a particularly painful thing to lose control of. We heard from a lot of you who’ve been grappling with big decisions: postponing ceremonies, choosing new dates, negotiating all the moving parts you thought you’d figured out already. Marriage is, of course, about finding a partner you can love and rely on through hard times - say, a pandemic. But the emotional and financial stress of postponing a wedding doesn’t go away just because the world has bigger issues.


And, for now, what happens to the business of wedding planning? Will ceremonies and celebrations be different after the storm clears? We can be sure that people won’t stop wanting to get married, but after we’ve adapted to the social changes that come with a global virus, what will weddings look like? I talked to world-renowned wedding planner Michelle Rago, one of the best in the biz. Let’s get started.


[MUSIC]

Michelle: [00:01:17] My name is Michelle Rago. I am a global event planning and production firm based out of New York City.

Mesh: [00:01:25] When you say event planning, that would include weddings, [00:01:30] correct?

Michelle: [00:01:31] Correct. I have been doing weddings almost 20 years actually.

Mesh: [00:01:36] And how widespread is your business? You do weddings around the world.

Michelle: [00:01:42] I do. I'm based out of New York City and I have worked from Japan to all over Europe. The Caribbean. So yes, all over the world.

Mesh: [00:01:56] And when it comes to the virus, COVID-19, [00:02:00] has it affected your business at all?

Michelle: [00:02:04] Yes. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in the hospitality industry, and I'm fortunate because I actually don't have a wedding in April or May. My peers are struggling and turning themselves inside out to figure out how to take care of clients who either need to cancel or postpone. [00:02:30] The next one coming up is [add an ‘in’] August and we're in the process of deciding whether or not it's an at home wedding. [00:02:36] Whether or not to keep it in August or to move it to December. And then I have a September wedding who we won't know the answer for about probably a month.

Mesh: [00:02:53] And how has it been dealing with your clients? Are they anxious? What is your job here to prevent them from having so much anxiety?

Michelle: [00:03:07] Well, you know, this is where experience really matters. Um, not that I have any experience with a pandemic, but you know // [00:05:00] I have taken my business through 9/11 through ‘08 and, you know, I've been producing events for, again, 20 years. So we're helping our clients to assess what's possible and what the financial impact is and how to take care of their guests. [00:05:17] So // we're playing many roles and // being a calming force because it's obviously devastating what's happening, but it's also [00:05:30] terrible to have to either cancel or postpone your wedding. Iit's really emotional for people.

Mesh: [00:05:36] And the emotional part of it, is it really more that it's uncertain what they have to do?

Michelle: [00:05:53] I think you have to remember, you know, it's, it's sad. If your wedding was a month out, and all of a sudden, the reality that you have to change this incredibly important day, it's, I mean, that's very upsetting for people. So [00:06:17] in the short run, you're doing a lot of damage control. And then of course, there's money spent. For couples who are getting married, say in Italy or in Europe, these hotels [00:06:30] have been devastated financially as well, so if you're worrying about recovering money, you may not be able to have that conversation with a hotel or a property for a month and a half, you know? [00:06:44] So it's very stressful.

Mesh: [00:06:50] So from that standpoint, can you just walk us through if I were to move my wedding that was already planned // a month [00:07:00] out or two months out. What are all the different moving pieces that you actually have to change?

Michelle: [00:07:10] So if you have to move a wedding a month from now, you've got to really go into triage mode in terms of communicating with guests. If you have a wedding website, using that wedding website to communicate in real time, it's critical [00:07:30] to, you know [00:07:31] communicate to every single vendor. If you have identified a date, hopefully the vendors that you are using are able to move. If they want to keep it at the same location, it's working with the property. If they're able to communicate right now about what's possible. And we're telling clients who are getting married later in the year to allow the people [00:08:00] who are struggling now, you know, to focus so that we can focus on them first. [00:08:04] You know, everybody's vying for // the same dates before the end of the year // or the key dates for 2021.

Mesh: [00:08:14] Yeah. So can you explain that to us? // At this point, now we've lost a big part of the summer, let's say for 2020. What are the dates that people are looking at for the rest of the year, for 2021?

Michelle: [00:08:30] Well for 2020 people are still hanging on to October and November and December. And then for 2021 people are looking at spring and summer, currently.

Mesh: [00:08:47] And what do you see here? What you think is a [00:09:00] reality for folks to know? Like would you say hey, let's wait it out right now. Or let's start booking.

Michelle: [00:09:11] Well, you know, in terms of my business, look, it's scary for everyone. And my hope is that, you know, we're going to pop out of this and be able to return to some degree of normalcy by the fall. I'm a smaller company, so I'm a lot more agile than companies that are [00:09:30] bigger. [00:09:50] We obviously want to take care of our clients, and what I'm telling them is, look, we're all in this together and we're seeing the news in real [00:10:00] time the same way, and I'm not going to have you move forward with a contract, you know, in July, if we're not sure that we have to just wait and give it a month and a half.

Mesh: [00:10:15] As an event coordinator and planner, you work with a ton of vendors are all small businesses. Can you tell us how they've been affected or if you've heard from peers of yours or other people in the industry?

Michelle: [00:10:30] Yeah. I mean, listen, it's terrifying for people because you know, all of a sudden. Maybe you're not getting your final payments, or let's say you have a wedding in a few months and you have deposits. I hear that some clients have just stopped responding to emails you know, everybody's on sort of a cash grab. [00:10:56] ‘Cause people just don't know what's gonna happen. [00:11:00] You have to remember that this is a big mom and pop industry. So these are vendors that are very effected by not having cashflow.

Mesh: [00:11:15] And can you describe that a bit further? You've told me once that you think the wedding industry is kind of this last frontier of mom and pop shops. I think it's important for people to understand // the cash flow issues that these vendors have. It's not like they don't want to [00:12:00] give you your money back. [00:12:00] They just, this is how they survive.

Michelle: [00:12:02] Yeah. This is a big mom and pop industry and even if you have a bigger planning firm or a bigger production firm, you know, it's a lot like the restaurant industry. The hospitality industry is one that's, it's a, it's a volume business. [00:12:21] And so if you've given someone a deposit it's not as if they've taken that and [00:12:30] they've gone out and bought a Ferrari, you know, that's money that they're using to run their business. I’ve spoken to a lot of my peers and // what I have heard is sort of putting the contract aside, you know, everybody's in it together. [00:12:45] What's the best thing we can do? Hopefully the next date is available. You know you're having to be really innovative because some people just aren't in the position to return that money.

Michelle: [00:14:26] I mean // there's definitely going to be money that's on the table. [00:14:29] You know, // the problem is there are only so many days, so it's like a boat tipping over. If everybody steps to the same side, it's going to tip over and then all that business is going to try and fall into the same days. // It's a hard time for everybody.

//

Mesh: [00:18:55] Do you have any ideas of what will happen with vendors and maybe how the wedding industry will pivot?

Michelle: [00:19:02] Yeah. // I've thought a lot about how the wedding industry might pivot as a result of this. // I've worked from home for seven years and // I have a home office. And I wonder whether having sort of a big show room will be necessary going forward and, or whether people will feel like it's just unnecessary. // [00:19:36] I think that we'll start to live // in a more virtual world. 

Mesh: [00:19:58] Do you think that there'll be [00:20:00] virtual weddings?

Michelle: [00:20:02] I'm sure there will be, you know, there's part of me that as horrifying as this is, and it is horrifying // I'm so fascinated to see what the reset will be and how people will continue to communicate or how they'll, you know, innovate to communicate.

Mesh: [00:21:07] If I was someone who was planning my wedding today and I came to you for advice, what would you tell me?

Michelle: [00:21:34] So if a client came to me about planning their wedding and they had the ability to wait, I would tell them to get married in 2021  and if someone truly wants to get married by the end of the year we would help them plan a smaller celebration and, you know, make it [00:22:00] intimate. [00:22:50] You know. Having done this for 20 years [00:23:12] I don't want to see this beautiful tradition go by the wayside because it's just such an incredible rite of passage. // I think the emphasis will be on something different [00:23:30] going forward. // People are still going to do beautiful flowers. A bride still wants to be in a wedding dress. I don't believe that people are going to pivot so far away from that, that the wedding industry is going to completely tank, but it's definitely going to be different.

Mesh: [00:15:43] You mentioned that you had gone through similar things in 08 and 9/11. [00:17:15] What was that experience like building your business? That was after 9/11?

Michelle: [00:17:18] Yeah. So I started my company two months before 9/11, and of course thought that that was the poorest decision that I had ever made because it was terrible, obviously. [00:17:30] Except that post 9/11 people started getting married and pregnant at breakneck speed. And so I truly built my business after 9/11 based on the fact that people just said, my God, if not now, when? [00:18:27] What I do know about human beings is, [00:18:30] you know, we gather and we celebrate. And I know that as soon as people are able to, they will. And we'll all be here for that.

[MUSIC]

MESH VO: Weddings may look different in the future, but the need for family, community, and celebration will always be vital. Maybe this changes the way we plan big parties. Maybe new businesses will be created out of this - a new way to do weddings in a post-virus world. And hopefully you’ll all plan carefully in the coming months. I hope couples reach the end of this stronger than ever, and I hope wedding vendors make it through and find new ways to do what they do best. For better or for worse, we’ll be able to celebrate together eventually. Stay safe out there.


Thanks to my guest Michelle Rago, and a big thanks to those who sent in voice memos: Josh Chorazy, Katie Jane, Karen Love, Katherine Milsop, James Tornello, and Danielle Johnson.


This episode was edited and produced by Olivia Briley & engineered by Maia Tarrell. Sign up at thetalkmoney.com for further deep dives and to hear other episodes. We appreciate you sharing this with your friends, and subscribing to us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you choose to listen. Until next time.


*MUSIC CREDIT



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